Schenectady High School graduates capped off a tumultuous year Friday with a pair of sunny graduation ceremonies at the center of the high school football field.
After an entire year with most students learning virtually from home, the senior class finally gathered together for one final send-off – though spread across two ceremonies.
“We have been separated for over a year and a half, and this is our moment to celebrate together,” Makaila Adair, the class co-valedictorian declared during her speech to her classmates.
Adair highlighted the unexpected turn of events this year’s seniors faced toward the end of their junior year and alluded to the struggle seniors faced as they pushed for different activities throughout the year, including an outdoor graduation ceremony.
“I don’t think anyone predicted a pandemic happening in our four years of high school,” Adair, who plans to study engineering at RPI next year, told her classmates. “I’m beyond grateful we can be here today even though it took some fighting.”
Adair’s co-valedictorian Halle Fletcher, headed to Wellesley College to study neuroscience, reminded her classmates of the challenges they had overcome and urged them to pursue their passions.
“You all in your own way overcame the obstacles and made it to the finish line of this part of your life,” Fletcher said. “High school after today is behind us and it’s time to move on and achieve great things for ourselves.”
Senior Class President Elizabeth Tchako, who helped push for different events this year, said she will miss the diversity that defines Schenectady and its students and the different perspectives Schenectady students bring with them to school. Other schools have nothing on Schenectady High, she said,
“No one can compare to the community we share walking in the hallways here,” she said. “We are not a typical high school, and I could not see myself proud of my time here if we were.”
Schenectady High School on Friday celebrated 561 graduates in the class of 2021 with a pair of commencement ceremonies at the high school football field. The high school registered a projected graduation rate this year of 77 percent, a slight improvement over last year and the highest graduation rate for the school in well over a decade.
After the ceremonies concluded, graduates snapped pictures with friends and family and looked back on the past year.
Graduate Anjalie Gopal after the ceremony said she felt great crossing the stage after a challenging year of mostly working from home.
“It’s been a rough year,” she said. “I didn’t think I would have walked across the stage but I did. It feels awesome.”
She said she plans to study criminal justice and wants to work as a crime scene investigator. “CSI,” she said simply when asked about her career aspirations.
“The beginning was stressful, we thought it was gonna be something great, then COVID came down,” said graduate Robert Barton as he walked across the football field after the ceremony.
He said working from home was a major strain for him and his classmates and noted that many of his classmates lost motivation or gave up. But he said he was able to keep focused enough to get to the finish line, thanking his family for the constant support to “go to school, go to school.”
“The ones who pulled through had to sit down and put their minds to work more than anything else,” he said of his fellow graduates. Barton plans to go to college and said he was interested in studying video editing or computer science.
Joi Garcia said at times she thought she would never make it across the graduation stage. But she did.
“I felt like I wasn’t ever gonna make it, but I did it,” Garcia said. “I was like, damn, I never thought this day would come so fast.”
It wasn’t easy, Garcia said, but she proved that she can accomplish difficult tasks.
“It was hard but I always was focused, I tried my best, I did my best,” Garcia said before outlining what she learned about herself over the past year of school. “I’m strong, I’m brave, I’m intelligent.”